Friday, September 30, 2011

A Sweat Lodge Site

On the shoulder of  an outcrop in the woods, I see this unusual structure. It appears to be the  end of a loose stone row composed of  small standing stones oriented  edge to edge.
The stone row leads to this round structure.
This looks like a sweat lodge base.  There is no water nearby, so I presume this structure had ceremonial instead of merely hygienic use.
     The outcrop this lodge rests on is this one, which I used as an example in the 9/3 posting. The slab on top looks like a manitou from the sweat lodge base. At the site in 9/3 posting, the rock was quarried away until only a large slab resembling a manitou was standing.  This same process might have been going on here, but was interrupted.
The rock in this area is layered and breaks off into slabs.  This site is next to this outcrop, which is the junction for a very long wall composed of standing slabs.
I will describe this wall in greater detail in the next post.  Standing the stones face-to-face is the most inefficient use of material.  The cost of building this wall in time, labor, and  materials suggests its importance. Perhaps there was some great significance to the outcrop the stone came from.
     Here  is the site on an early summer morning:
I have to confess to using some artistic license to place  the structure in the first photo in the painting.  The stone row is about twice as long.  After I finished the painting, I realized the skins on the sweat lodge were blocking the viewer's path through the painting, so I revised it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Equinox Alignment Site

Since it is Fall equinox today, I am posting a site in northern RI that appears to have an equinox alignment.  Last year Larry Harrop told me that a tribal member had told him that there is a sacred site in these woods.  This is one possibility.
     Near the top of a hill is a 300 foot long wall.  There are no other walls nearby that may have been joined to it once.
 Close to the wall is a strange, flat topped boulder with three smooth grooves running along the boulder's long axis. There is a prominent one to the left in the top photo, and two shallower ones to the right.
The boulder seems to have some sort of gutter carved into the left side, and a stain visible on the right side at the end of the deeper groove.  The grooves feel smooth, as if they were ground into the stone.  The long axis of the boulder is aligned N-S.
Here is the area plotted in topo software:
The longer section of the wall has about a 285 degree bearing, suggesting Spring and Fall equinox sunsets. The grooved boulder is the yellow waypoint near the slight bend in the wall.
         I have read of grooved stones with gutters described as "sacrificial stones", especially one at America's Stonehenge in NH.  There's no evidence that these stones were used for Aztec-style  sacrifices.  It is  more likely that this boulder was used for some domestic purpose, such as food production, since the grooves are ground smooth.  It may have been easier to collect ground corn, acorns,  or even paint powder by pushing it along a groove instead of scooping it out of a round mortar.
      One thing that always impresses me when viewing plotted waypoints  of walls and boulders is the number of astronomical alignments. Some may be pure coincidence, some may be real observation points, and some may reflect a native desire to organize the landscape  in respect to the changes of the seasons.
     Maybe this wall and boulder were the sacred site, or maybe this other boulder is it:
This oblong boulder is propped at both ends, and has a "face" picked into the larger end. It is a long walk north from the alignment site. Or maybe the whole wood is sacred.
     In any case, the aligned wall and boulder were interesting subject matter for this painting. The best composition was facing away from the sunset.
Here it is spring equinox, and the shadows in the melting snow are parallel to the wall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sweat Lodge

On the west shore of a pond in northern Rhode Island is a site with about 20 cairns.  Some of them have shapes suggesting effigies.
By the water's edge is a circle of stones about 5 feet in diameter.
The shape and location of this circle suggest it was a sweat lodge. I once found an article in an online copy of  The Narragansett Dawn describing how Indians would build a lodge of bent saplings and cover it with skins.  They would then place heated stones in the center and pour water on them to create steam.  After a  steam bath, they would bathe in the pond.  The Pilgrims believed bathing was unhealthy, and rarely washed their clothes.  One can only imagine what the Wampanoags thought.
I have seen other structures like this near water, as well as some far from water.  They may have had ritual as well as hygienic use, and I'll show some in later posts.  Here's my interpretation of the site on an early September morning.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You never know what you'll find in your own neighborhood!

Saturday afternoon I was out for a walk and passed an overgrown lot.  Previously I had only glimpses of an outcrop with a small stone building built against it, and an old chicken coop.  The landowner has recently cleared out some of the weeds to make a driveway, revealing this scene:
The small stone building is to the left, and what looks like a niche decorated with quartz is to the right. Or maybe it's a structure with some farming function.  Across the street is this structure, incorporated into the landscaping.
And finally, a few blocks away in another vacant, thorn-choked lot, another outcrop with a ruined stone house, and this:

This outcrop also has a stone row with a manitou.
All of these are less than 0.25 mile from each other, and in a neighborhood 1 mile from the Providence city limits!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Waterfalls

Along the same river in the previous post (9/3/2011), there are two waterfalls.  The first is a natural waterfall, and by the top of this waterfall is a supported slab.
This slab is visible in this photo taken from the bottom of the falls in winter.  Further upstream from this slab are a manitou, and a structure of three overlapping rocks.  This overlapping structure is common in this area.
Further downstream, the river enters an urban area, and falls over a modern concrete dam.  Beside the dam is an old wall which was probably part of the original dam.  This dam  appears on maps of the area dating from the 1880s.  On top of the wall is a niche.

 The original dam wall is visible in the background.  The presence of these two structures at two very different waterfalls indicates  the spiritual importance of waterfalls, and the persistence of Indian beliefs.
The natural waterfall is so beautiful, I painted it  without the clutter of fallen trees and branches.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

By a River in Northern Rhode Island...

Welcome to SecretLandscapes.  You may know me from Larry Harrop's blog as "Catherine from Johnston".  These posts of photographs of stone structures, bent trees, and cultural items are intended as possible interpretations of the original use of the sites.  Where useful, I include my own artwork.  These landscape paintings  are based on GPS waypoints and photographs, and show how sites might look without excessive trees, trash, or modern development. 
Without any further ado, here is one of my favorite sites.  This large structure faces South towards a small river, and  consists of large stone slabs stacked  under a huge manitou-shaped slab. There is a smaller manitou at the front center of the structure.

One of the slabs forms a small chamber, seen at lower right.

A view of the whole structure from one end.

     Behind the structure, a 5-foot tall manitou stands.  There is also a small cairn behind the structure.
I think this large structure was constructed, and is not just a collection of fallen slabs.  Here is a similar site in the same area, for comparison. Note how this outcrop has the same pointed shape, and the fallen slabs are parallel to the outcrop, and not perpendicular.   The manitou imagery and small chamber in the riverside structure suggest some religious purpose.
     Here is my reconstruction of the site, including a nearby stonerow.
This  certainly is a beautiful and imposing structure, suggesting a temple rising from the earth.